'She put her credit card behind the bar and half of Kildare was there'

Virginia Kraft Payson: died this week at the age of 92
Virginia Kraft Payson: died this week at the age of 92Credit: Keeneland Photo

Jim Bolger has spoken fondly of his “night of revelry” with Virginia Kraft Payson after the death in the US of the pioneering sportswoman who owned and bred his sensational 1992 Irish Derby winner St Jovite.

Kraft Payson, who was 92 when she died on Monday at her Payson Stud farm in Lexington, Kentucky, had a brief but memorable involvement with racing in Europe.

Her association with Bolger lasted only a couple of years, but it was lit up by the brilliance of St Jovite, a champion two-year-old who lost out to Dr Devious in the Derby at Epsom before exacting revenge in spectacular style at the Curragh.

His 12-length winning margin and time of 2.25min 60sec have never been bettered. He went on to claim the King George in similarly emphatic style before he and Dr Devious added another chapter to their great rivalry when the Epsom hero got up on the line to thwart St Jovite by a short-head in the Irish Champion Stakes.

St Jovite (left) wins the 1992 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes at Ascot from Saddlers' Hall (right)
St Jovite (left) wins the 1992 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes at Ascot from Saddlers' Hall (right)Credit: Gerry Cranham

“First of all I'd like to give my condolences to her husband and her three daughters,” Bolger said of Kraft Payson, who is survived by her fourth husband David Libby Cole. “She was great fun, particularly the night that we won the Derby.

“She told me that we must celebrate and said to me, 'There's my credit card'. So we got into the Keadeen Hotel and I think half of Kildare was there. It was a great night, and it was my only night of revelry after winning a race. Usually we would go home, but not that night.”

A native of New York City, Kraft Payson was an outdoor adventurer who was the only woman among the first journalists hired by the fledgling Sports Illustrated when the magazine launched in 1954.

An author of five books, her involvement with horseracing began when she and her second husband, Charles Shipman Payson, bid on spec at an auction in the 1970s.

“We only had a difference of opinion twice, and one of them was in relation to whether we went to York or not with St Jovite after the King George,” Bolger recalled.

“She told me that I should give him a break and aim for the Irish Champion Stakes. I told her that I had given him as much of a break as I could because he was a very exuberant horse. But she wouldn't hear of it because she was going to Saratoga, and she always liked to be racing when her horses were running. She was a great owner and she used to come over and stay with us.”

Their other disagreement was over who would ride St Jovite at Ascot when Christy Roche was suspended. “She wanted Steve Cauthen and I wanted an Irish jockey,” Bolger says.

“I didn't particularly mind who it was but it was just my ambition to promote Irish racing. Lester [Piggott] had pestered me for the ride, and I told him I would have loved to have given it to him, but I had to put Irish racing in front of even Lester Piggott. Stephen Craine rode the horse and he won in a canter.

“They were our only two minor disagreements. I gave in on the first one and she gave in on the second one, so we were quits at the end. It was a brief enough association but they were two good years. She was a wonderful lady.”

Richard ForristalIreland editor
Published on 11 January 2023Last updated 15:41, 11 January 2023